Bingu wa Mutharika, the president of Malawi, has pardoned Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, the gay couple who had been sentenced to 14 years in prison after being convicted of unnatural acts and gross indecency, Reuters reported.
wa Mutharikawho recently called homosexuality "evil and bad before the eyes of God"said, "I have done this on humanitarian grounds but this does not mean that I support [ homosexuality ] ." The couple had been arrested after holding an engagement ceremony.
Patricia Kaliati, Malawi's minister of gender and children, said Monjeza and Chimbalanga's release did not condone the continuation of their relationship. "It doesn't mean that now they are free people, they can keep doing whatever you keep doing," she told BBC News, adding that they could be arrested again.
The White House issued a statement saying it is "pleased to learn of President Bingu wa Mutharika's pardon of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza. ... We must all recommit ourselves to ending the persecution and criminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity. We hope that President Mutharika's pardon marks the beginning of a new dialogue which reflects the country's history of tolerance and a new day for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights in Malawi and around the globe."
In a press release Cary Alan Johnson, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, said, "We commend President Mutharika for arriving at a decision that prevents two innocent people from spending years in prison without just cause. This pardon should be seen as a significant challenge to laws and proceedings that are inherently unfair. However, it should not require a presidential intervention for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Malawians to obtain justice."
Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said, "It is reprehensible to imprison anyone for who they are or who they love. We salute the leaders who have spoken up for Steven and Tiwonge, particularly members of Congress and State Department officials. This is welcomed news that we hope will reverberate around the world in placesincluding our own countrywhere LGBT people are targeted for harassment and discrimination."
Pop icon Madonna took to her blog to thank the thousands of people who had joined her online campaign to release the two men, according to MonstersAndCritics.com . She wrote: "In the last week, over 30,000 of you added your name to mine calling for the release of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalangal...
"With incredible joy, I am writing to share with you that Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika has ordered their release.'"